JIN-399 -- Year of the BoSox

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
Commentary on Japan's culture, economy and society
Issue No. 399
Tuesday January 16, 2007 TOKYO

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Year of the BoSox

2007 dawned brilliant in the Kanto. I joined several
thousand other people to watch the sun rise above a hill
on the beach at Kamakura on the 1st. All gazed, cameras
poised, in anticipation of the ascension, and it arrived to
a cacophony of oohs and aahs and whoops and wails from a
spectating crowd in a netherworld of sake intoxication and
sleep deprivation.

Sun worshippers and shrine visitors thronged the city from
the wee hours, and the merchants had opened to accommodate
them. I found a cozy Komachi-dori coffee shop where I
warmed my hands with a cup of java, and indulged in apple
pie a la mode..

Kamakura has succeeded too well in remaking itself in the
image of the tourists’ desire. I avoid it on weekends for
the heaving crowds. The city will draw even more visitors
after its designation as a World Heritage site, perhaps as
early as this summer and no later than next.

Yet for many Japanese the new year does not appear sunny.

"Do you expect this year to be sunnier than last year." The
Asahi Shimbun, a major daily, posed this question to its
nationwide 9,000 monitors. Of the 2,551 who replied, via
the Internet, 41% said the outlook for 2007 was dark,
nearly twice as many as those who felt the year held
promise (21%). The remainder pled the lack of a crystal ball.

The reason most cited (by 724) for pessimism in
2007 was unease over the widening income disparity in Japan.
"The economy will improve, but society will be marked by
widening income gaps," commented a 32-year-old woman in
Fukuoka. "Only the upper classes will benefit." A
39-year-old man in Kanagawa said, "Companies will profit,
but times will be hard for the people,"

The second most oft-cited reason was anxiety over the
future of social welfare (337), followed by a spike in
serious crime. Some respondents hoped the new year would
be free of the horrific incidents and accidents that shocked
the nation with numbing regularity last year. "I feel there
is a growing momentum to solve social problems such as
bullying and drunken driving," commented a 43-year-old
woman in Kanagawa Prefecture.

When monitors who were upbeat about 2007 were asked why,
the greatest number (268) replied that there were signs of
economic recovery.

Indeed, in November the Japanese Government said
the period of economic growth had reached 58 consecutive
months, surpassing the previous longest period of growth,
the fabled Izanagi Economy, 57 months' growth from 1965
to 1970, the longest since the end of the Second World War.
That was perhaps why nearly 70% of monitors predicted the
Bank of Japan would raise interest rates and the Nikkei
would top 17,000 yen.

The vast majority of monitors (78%) predicted Kim Jun-Il
would not give up nuclear weapons, 41% predicted Prime
Minister Abe would not resign, and 37% forecast Tokyo
Governor Ishihara would not be elected to a third term.
On the contrary, 64% thought Daisuke Matsuzaka, Japan's
super pitcher recently signed by the Boston Red Sox,
would win at least 10 games in 2007.

My own forecast is that the roll out of 2007 will resemble
the close of 2006--with a Boston media frenzy. In
anxious times sport offers respite.

-- Burritt Sabin

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